Looking back it’s stunning how easily the cold war enticed us into surrendering popular control of government to the national security state. We’ve never come closer to bestowing absolute authority on the President. Setting up White House groups that secretly decide to fight dirty little wars is a direct assumption of the war powers expressly forbidden by the Constitution. Not since December 1941 has Congress declared war. Since then we’ve had police action in Korea, advisers in Vietnam, covert operations in Central America, peace keeping in Lebanon, and low intensity conflicts going on right now from Mangola to Cambodia. We’ve turned the war powers of the United States over to… well we’re never really sure who, or what they’re doing, or what it costs, or who is paying for it.
So began the morality of the cold war. Anything goes. The struggle required a mentality of permanent war – a perpetual state of emergency, and admit a vast new apparatus of power that radically transformed our government. Its foundations were laid when President Truman signed in to law the National Security Act of 1947.
The secret government is an interlocking network of official functionaries, spies, mercenaries, ex-generals, profiteers, and super patriots, who for a variety of motives operate outside the legitimate institutions of government. Presidents have turned to them when they can’t win support of the Congress or the people, creating that unsupervised power so feared by the framers of our Constitution.
Iran, 1953, the C.I.A. mounted its first covert operation to overthrow a foreign government. The target was the Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammed Mosaddeq. He held power legitimately through his country’s parliamentary process. And, he was popular. Washington had once looked to him as the man to prevent a communist takeover. But that was before Mosaddeq decided that the Iranian State, not British Companies, ought to own and control the oil within Iran’s own borders. When he nationalized the British run oil fields, Washington saw red. The Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen, director of the C.I.A., decided with Eisenhower’s approval to overthrow Moseddeq and reinstate the Shaw of Iran. The mobs paid by the C.I.A., and the police and soldiers bribed by the C.i.A., drove Moseddeq from office. The king of kings was back in control and more pliable than Moseddeq. American oil companies took over almost half of Iran’s production.
Guatemala. 1954, flushed with success, America’s secret government decided another troublesome leader must go. This time it was Jacobo Árbenz, the democratically elected President of Guatemala. President Arbenz had admired Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his government voted often with the American position at the United Nations. But in trying to bring a “New Deal” to Guatemala, Arbenz committed two sins in the eyes of the Eisenhower administration. First when he opened the system to all political parties, he recognized the Communists, too. Armenz also embarked on a massive land reform program. Less than 3% of the land owners held more than 70% of the land. So Arbenz nationalized more than 1.5 million acres, including land owned by his own family, and turned it over to the peasants. Much of that land belonged to the United Fruit Company. The giant American firm that was intent on keeping Guatemala, quite literally, a Banana Republic. United Fruit appealed to its close friends in Washington, including the Dulles Brothers, who said that Arbenz was ‘openly playing the Communist game’. He had to go…
Cuba, 1961, 7 years after Operation PBSUCCESS in Guatemala, Bissell was planning another C.I.A. covert operation. On April 17, 1961, Cuban exiles trained by the C.I.A. at a base in friendly Guatemala, landed on the southern coast of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Th U.S. had promised air support, but President Kennedy canceled it. The invaders, left defenseless, surrendered.
Vietnam, 1968. American soldiers are fighting and dying in the jungles of Southeast Asia. But, the Vietnam War didn’t start this way. It started secretly, off the books, like so many of these ventures that have ended disastrously. The C.I.A. got there early, soon after the Vietnamese won their independence from the French in 1954. Eisenhower warned that the nations of Southeast Asia would fall like dominoes if the Communists, led by Ho Chi Minh, took over of Vietnam. To hold the line, we installed in Saigon a puppet regime under Ngo Dinh Diem. American trained commandos were trained to sabotage bus and rail lines and contaminate North Vietnam’s oil supply. Vice President Nixon brought moral support to Diem, but the situation kept getting worse. …The secret war was leading only to deeper involvement and more deception. …the action in the Gulf of Tonkin was not unprovoked. South Vietnam had been conducting secret raids in the area against the North, and the American destroyer, ordered into the battle zone, had advanced warning it could be attacked. But, Johnson seized the incident to stampede congress into passing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. He then used it as a blank check, for the massive build up of American forces.
Some of the team that later joined the Iran Contra Enterprise, helped to run the secret war in Laos. As General Richard Secord later put it “Laos belongs to the C.I.A.” American planes blasted the Communists in the jungle. And on the ground, we had our own secret army, among tribesmen.
The men who wrote our Constitution tried to make it hard to go to war. Human life was at stake, they knew, and the character of our Republic. War should be soberly decided, publicly debated, and mutually determined by the people’s representatives. It is people, after all, who must fight, pay, and die once the choice is made. The Constitution was to protect them from dying for the wrong reasons. It was to protect them from killing for the wrong reasons.